ThunderBolt Port AdaptersAs an extension of a computer's internal PCI bus, a ThunderBolt adapter can provide direct 'on-ramp' access to a computer's CPU, graphics card and memory, hence the high-speed. In a sense, ThunderBolt allows you to add nearly any type of computer interface or an 'expansion card' to your Mac or PC without having to open up the computer or plug anything into a 'slot'. A growing variety of ThunderBolt adapter and converter cables, hubs and docking stations are now available for a wide range of connectivity needs.
Types of ThunderBolt Interface Adapters
USB 3.0 ThunderBolt Adapter
eSATA ThunderBolt Adapter
FireWire ThunderBolt Adapter
DisplayPort ThunderBolt Adapter
ThunderBolt Dock and Hub Adapter
ThunderBolt Network Adapter
ThunderBolt Audio Adapter
ThunderBolt Video Adapter
"Bridge" Adapters for ThunderBolt ports convert one type of connection to another, just as a bridge can connect a tarred road on one side to a gravel road at the other. Many computer peripherals like drive cases and docks are an example of, say, a SATA drive bridge to USB 3.0 or FireWire. As Intel and Apple ThunderBolt ports proliferate in the desktop and laptop computer marketplace, a plethora of ThunderBolt peripheral adapters have begin to ship to add other types of ports and additional interfaces to existing machines.
Currently Shipping Computers With ThunderBolt Port
As Intel's develpment partner, Apple wisely chose their best-selling MacBooks (and highest volume computer line) to introduce the ThunderBolt interface on. Currently nearly 3 out of every 4 Macs sold - over 3 million laptops per quarter - are MacBook notebooks. It was the fastest way for Apple to get as many new TBolt port enabled systems out there quickly. With successive revisions: iMacs, MacBook Airs and Mac mini, and now Macintosh Pro desktop computers with ThunderBolt ports are now shipping as well. The professional Mac Pro Cylinder desktop line was the last to receive a ThunderBolt upgrade - and it incorporated the even-faster 20Gbps ThunderBolt 2.0 spec.
As of 2015, Apple is transitioning from first generation 10Gbps Mac ThunderBolt and now onto 20Gbps ThunderBolt 2. Expect all desktops and laptops across it's entire product line to have 2nd-generation ThunderBolt 2 ports by year's end. Additionally, all MacBook models now provide a minimum of 2 SuperSpeed Mac compatible USB 3.0 ports, providing even more high-speed interface connectivity options.
ThunderBolt PC Market
Intel is a huge OEM of logic boards. ThunderBolt motherboards for Windows PC's began showing up in mid 2013 into new Windows systems by a variety of Top-Tier PC manufacturers. Apple may have been the partner and test-bed for the initial launch of ThunderBolt, but the Windows PC platform may eventually deliver even higher high-volume production to insure an even broader market for ThunderBolt accessories in the years to come.
PCI Slot ThunderBolt Cards? Not Possible?
None have been announced - and there may NEVER be an upgrade market for legacy Windows PC and Apple Macintosh Pro tower owners who want to add a ThunderBolt port adapter card into one of their open PCI-X slots. WHY? Because it technically may not be possible to 'add' additional T-Bolt ports via a PCI card. Intel's website implies that for such direct access to the PCI bus, CPU AND graphics chipset - the ThunderBolt chipset needs to be integrated into the logic board and not just hanging off an open PCI-Express slot. However, Sonnet Technologies has announced ships external PCI-e expansion chassis with chainable ThunderBolt ports at the rear that will allow EXTERNAL PCI cards to hang off a modern Mac with an external ThunderBolt or ThunderBolt 2 port.
DisplayPort Functions In ThunderBolt
ThunderBolt also supports external DisplayPort computer displays - with all the bandwidth needed to drive multiple, high-resolution HD monitors at fast speeds. It's no coincidence that ThunderBolt connectors, sockets and plugs use the same form factor that Apple's been using with it's mini DisplayPort.
The POLITICS Of ThunderBolt
It's important to understand that the collaboration of Intel and Apple, the Intellectual Property behind ThunderBolt and DisplayPort, Licensing and Patent Royalties involving implementing ThunderBolt ports, and CONTROL OVER THE COMPUTING LANDSCAPE may be the real back-story here.
In a direct quote from Intel's ThunderBolt products page:
"Thunderbolt products require a controller chip supplied by Intel and a small connector that would be included in platforms supporting this technology. The Thunderbolt controller chip provides protocol switching capabilities to support the two protocols over a single cable. Intel is making its controller chip available to the industry, and is working with other component manufacturers to deliver the Thunderbolt connectors and cables."
Unlike TBolt, SuperSpeed USB 3.0 operates with the openeness of the USB-IF USB Implementers Forum, Inc. - This consortium broadly oversees and certifies USB3 implementation. At this point LightPeak and ThunderBolt are largely in Intel and Apple's direct control. There aren't multiple ThunderBolt chipset manufacturers shipping ThunderBolt compatible chipsets - so expect a slow (and perhaps painful) road to a truly thriving market of ThunderBolt peripherals and accessories from a wide variety of vendors.